Wolves in the West
Wolf reintroduction has been a major topic for lots of scientists and biologists for some time. This is mainly because the human perception towards the wolf has changed, what used to be known as a ‘savage killer’ became known as a ‘keystone species’, vital to a healthy ecosystem. That idea came into place when biologists started noticing that the elk within Yellowstone, without a true predator, began to overpopulate, causing erosion in the soil, then causing a reduced number of habitats for other animals. People then began to put together a reintroduction program for the wolf. As soon as that began to work the scientists realized that the wolves, by bringing the elk numbers down, not only stopped the soil erosion, but began to make other habitats for other animals that were missing, including beavers, birds, turtles and fish. The wolves, the keystone species of Yellowstone, have recreated Yellowstone as we know it.
Over some of the time of the trip, we have been hearing tons of different perspectives from cattle ranchers, to hunters, to even the leader of the reintroduction himself. It has been very interesting to hear one person push forward an argument, another one counter it, than another person come up with some argument that’s totally different.
This following perspective is from a hunter, Brad Grein. One of his main ideas was that:
“Wolves in Yellowstone were introduced, (not reintroduced). The wolves before were timber wolves while the wolves now are gray wolves, and gray wolves are 160 pounds while timber wolves are 90 pounds.”
And to him, that makes a big difference in the whole ecosystem, with both predators and prey. He also says the people in the reintroduction program knew they where introducing the wrong wolf and still didn’t do anything about it.
Here is another perspective from a totally different angle, from the leader of wolf reintroduction, Doug Smith. He completely counters Brad’s idea by saying that, “Different wolf subspecies can breed with each other.” That means that even though they might look different, they are actually closely related. And to back that up he also says, “The difference between the big and small wolves is only in the 6-8th percentile.”
This third perspective is from a rancher in east Montana, called Chip Watts. He is not with or against either ideas above, but is against the laws with the wolves. Here are some examples. “Just a few years ago,” he said, “there was a law that stated if you kill a wolf you get fined ten grand." As a result, that law left it open for wolves to kill cattle.There have always been problems with wolves and ranchers, but some laws are making that problem worse.
Even though I recognize all the ideas above on the reintroduction of wolves, I don't agree fully with any of them. Yes, I do agree with Brad that the size was different, but no, I don’t think that makes a big difference in the ecosystem at all due to the minor change in size stated by Doug Smith. I also agree with the reintroduction program, but the problem with that is, what happens when the wolves go out of Yellowstone? Do they get shot and killed? Or tranquilized and transported? Through all of the different opinions though, I agree most with the reintroduction of wolves because makes the ecosystem healthier.